It’s been out for more than a month, I know, but — wow. Still, the first word that comes to mind is — wow.

There was so much buzz/hype about this film and Heath Ledger’s performance in particular, that I had my doubts going into the theatre. I’m a big Batman fan (I used to collect and still own a first edition of Alan Moore’s The Killing Joke), so my expectations were high. Unlike many, I was unimpressed by Jack Nicholson’s rendition of The Joker in Tim Burton’s 1989 stab at the legend. Nicholson may be a fine actor, but he never disappeared into the role. His Joker was a loser and a buffoon. There was nothing psychotic or frightening in the performance. And the Joker — have no doubt — is psychotic evil manifest.

Ledger’s performance was exquisite. A thing of beauty. Perfection, even. Not once did I think: “Oh, look — Heath Ledger.” Instead, Ledger disappeared into the role as Nicholson was unable to do. His Joker was insane. Evil. Terrifying. Like I said — exquisite perfection. The Joker is an agent of chaos. He is the mirror opposite of Batman, who strives to bring order to Gotham. There is a moment in the film that aptly sums up their relationship. The Joker has the opportunity to kill Batman, but doesn’t because, in his own words: “You’re just too much fun.”

Kudos to director Christopher Nolan for having done his research on the nature of the relationship between Batman and the Joker. And if you still don’t know what I’m talking about, go read The Killing Joke.

The Dark Knight is worth seeing just for Ledger’s performance, but Nolan and company truly delivered with this movie. All of the acting is solid, especially Christian Bale’s Bruce Wayne/Batman, Maggie Gyllenhall’s Rachel Dawes (Katie who?) and Aaron Eckhart’s Harvey Dent/Two-Face. I bought into their chemistry — the tragic romantic triangle.

The script was mostly brilliant. It started to drag a bit when a new sub-plot was introduced right about when you felt the movie was coming to a close, but all the pieces of plot knitted together in the end, so it’s forgivable. And like any good franchise, it sets up the next installment. Alas, Ledger (God rest his soul) will not be a part of it.

So The Dark Knight earns not one, but two “squee!”s (just because).

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